NZ Council for Civil Liberties Chairperson’s Report 2016

I've been Chairperson of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties for two years now and therefore it's time for my second chairperson's report.

It's been a fairly quiet year for the council. We have contributed to some issues but others we have had to let pass by without anyone providing a civil liberties perspective. It's been heartening to see groups such as JustSpeak (criminal justice reform) and the HRLA (Human Right's Lawyers Association) speak on some of these.

A highlight for me this year was getting to present my speech "It's about power, not privacy" to both the Rotary Forum and the VUW-hosted Centre for Public Law. In it I argued that the real issue for the surveillance society is that it tips the balance of power away from the people and towards the government. I hope to explore this theme further over the next year.

I should also note that Tech Liberty, the group I co-founded to "defend civil liberties in the digital age", has now largely stopped operating, with my efforts concentrated on the Council.

Events in NZ

Notable events and trends in New Zealand over the past year include:

  • The submission of the Intelligence Review and the resulting Intelligence & Security Bill with a significant increase in scope and powers for the GCSB.
  • Signs of more pushback to Official Information Act requests combined with an increased tendency to discourage requestors through charging.
  • Issues with private prisons and their treatment of prisoners.
  • Successful court cases or settlements for journalists Bradley Ambrose, Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager.
  • A possible tipping of public opinion towards making medical marijuana available.
  • The banning of some Wicked camper vans and the temporary banning of book “Into the River”.

And while not in New Zealand, it's been hard to ignore our neighbour Australia's ongoing operation of offshore concentration camps for the indefinite detention of refugees.

Actions of the Council

Some of the main activities the Council was involved in this year include:

Dealing with correspondence and issues from a range of people who needed advice or someone to speak up for them. Of particular note were a couple of cases with public bodies issuing trespass notices to keep "undesirables" out of public places.

We supported the production of The Fifth Eye, a film about New Zealand's involvement in spying on behalf of the Five Eyes spy network. The film has now appeared at film festivals across the country. See for more information.

We made submissions on the following bills:

  • Child Protection [Child Sex Offender Register] Bill
  • Birth deaths Marriages and Relationship Registration [Preventing Name Change] Amendment Bill
  • Submission to MBIE re the Exposure Draft – Incorporated Societies Bill
  • Maritime Crimes Amendment Bill

Plans for the future

It’s clear that we need to keep working to promote civil liberties in New Zealand.

We see our mission as to continue to educate people about civil liberties and why they are important. For now our efforts will be concentrated on upgrading our website to make it more useful and relevant, as well as continuing to speak to interested audiences about the issues of the day.

Alongside this we will continue to put the civil liberties point of view to government through submissions and consultations.

Finally, we will keep providing advice and assistance to those who need it.

We need your help

The Council does important work but we need to be doing more of it as I fear that we are currently losing too many battles. If you think you can help we would be grateful for your ideas, your efforts, your resources, and your time. Please contact me at

Thomas Beagle

Chairperson, NZ Council for Civil Liberties